Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, June 13, 2011

Rejection and Recovery

Guest post promoted from the Forums (Background on Forum Promotion here)

By: Philip Isles

"Fall down 8 times, get up 9"
-Traditional Buddhist saying

Learning to accept rejection is imperative for any writer. Most writers realize this quickly. Or they make the mistake of self-publishing (guilty as charged). But one important aspect of rejection that many do not consider is recovery, which I learned about through physical fitness.

In cardio fitness, such as running or biking, performance is not only measured in how well one's heart rate performs, but also how quickly the heart rate returns to normal. This rate of recovery after the sprint or interval is considered just as important as the heart's performance during the activity itself.

About a year ago, my manuscript was submitted to a top agency, and I was waiting to hear back. There were a lot of positive indicators pointing at an offer of representation, and I allowed myself to get my hopes up: the agent reviewing the material had asked me for more material, wanted to know more about me...

This was the farthest I had ever been towards obtaining representation, and I was naturally excited.

When I got the call, I pulled my car to the side of the road to give the agent my full attention. I was rejected, and I took it hard, as one might expect, but for the first time in my life I witnessed my own process of recovery, and it was a crucial, vital lesson. As I got back on the road and drove off, I felt my dashed hopes of representation slowly transition back to the love of my material. I was startled by how quickly this transition took place in me, having expected to deal with it for days. But it was gone, and I was back on the road.

I realized that, much like the professional athlete training to push himself farther and farther, I had pushed my heart harder, by dealing with a bigger possibility/dream than I had ever experienced before. My heart not only dealt with the bigger opportunity--and the hopes and dreams that came with it--it also recovered from it. This moment of recovery struck me as a key moment in my development as a professional writer.

If you can't recover from rejection, you won't be able to handle the next opportunities or possibilities that come/are coming down the road, in the same way that athlete wouldn't be able to sprint if he doesn't recover. Recovery is just as crucial on the other, positive end of rejection: success and acceptance. If you don't recover from success--if you don't get back to a state of preparing for the next great sprint--there won't be chances for greater, higher success.






62 comments:

Christine Murray said...

Very true, and so nicely put. Rejection is never nice, but it's a necessary part of being a writer. Great post!

Lizzie Walker said...

Nathan, your post are always inspiring. I am a new writer and the wealth of information available to writers can be daunting.

It's wonderful to be in a community where shared information is encouraged.

Your words are uplifting. Thank you.

Nathan Bransford said...

lizzie-

Thanks! They're not my words though, they're Philip's words.

Melanie said...

I totally agree with this and I have been very surprised with how well I have been able to recover from rejection. The first one hurt for a couple of hours and then I was all like, hey, it's only ONE rejection. My work is good, it's ready, I've done everything right. This just wasnt' the right agent for my book. Sadly, the Rs have continued to trickle in, but I still know I have a well written, uniquely plotted story and one day it will happen. If not for this book then for the next. The Rs actually don't hurt anymore because, well, because I believe in myself and one day I know I will have the perfect agent who believes in my and my work too.

Tracy said...

Well said. I'm keeping this handy. Thanks for this.

v.n.rieker said...

This is so excellent to remember for when I start submitting. And... for rejection in general. Thank you! For sharing Philip's words!

Annie Bacon said...

I often find that rejection pushes me toward actions I had been delaying out of fear or laziness: ask someone for a contact, write an e-mail to an editor I know, send a new project to a few people, etc.

While writing a blogpost on a similar subject, I stumbled upon a book named "Best Selling Books Repeatedly Rejected by Publishers, Including Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Carrie, Gone with the Wind and More "

Sometimes, schadenfreude helps!!

Zan Marie said...

Very well said, Philip. Thanks for the pep talk. ; )

Deri said...

Excellent post...I'm just starting on my writing venture, and I will confess that fear of rejection and failure is keeping me from jumping in with both feet. I may just print this out and post it over my desk! Thanks for posting this for us! =)

Deri

Michael Matewauk said...

Hmm, never gave much thought to the recovery element of literary setbacks but yeah, you nailed that feeling. Thanks...

JP Kurzitza said...

Yes, rejection is good. But let's not forget that human beings run agencies and publishing house, and they have, are, and will continue to make mistakes. Just keep your chin up and remember that epubbing is not the ugly sister it once used to be!

Caroline said...

Just what I needed to read. I began querying last week--just a small batch of six agents, but I've already received three rejections, but I will continue on because I love my story, I love my characters, and there has to be someone out there who will feel the same way.

Cathy Yardley said...

Phillip, I love the emphasis on recovery, whether it's rejection OR success. I recently got a comment from a writer who reminded me that just like every scene needs a sequel, or a breather to allow the character to assess, "real" people need it, too. Enjoyed this post a lot! :D

Anna Zagar said...

Yes, you need to have thick skin at EVERY stage of the process. Even when you get an agent and notify other agents of your offer, you'll still get a "no thanks" from many. When you and your agent submit to houses, you'll get rejections there too. Heck, your agent can even reject you next book idea! Don't take it personally, just move on. I don't think enough emphasis can be put on the importance of accepting rejection, but this post is a great start! :)

Nancy Thompson said...

I've learned that each rejection is like scar tissue. It hurt to receive it, but I just get tougher with each small wound. And the bigger the rejection, (a submission vs. a query,) the bigger the wound, but the tougher (& harder to wound) I get.

D.G. Hudson said...

Thanks, Philip, for sharing your post. This is a great analogy -- using fitness to explain recovery from 'ego trauma'. As writers, we have an ego to protect, and learning to get up again and try once more, ad infinitum is a valuable tool.

I use weight training as well as cardio, and the muscles need to recover just like the lungs and heart if one wants to achieve the desired effect.

No wonder Buddhhism has survived so long - a lesson in tenacity.

Great choice of guest post, Nathan.

Mr. D said...

Although this is certainly true for writing, it's also true for something called LIFE.

Suze said...

Nathan, an inspiring post. Thank you.

Paul Greci said...

Great analogy! As a runner and a writer, I totally get this! Thanks!

Theresa Milstein said...

I thought the Buddhist saying was fall 800 times, get up 801. I think that's how many rejections I've amassed.

Receiving a phone call rejection is actually promising. It means the agent sees something special in your writing.

That's why self-publishing too quickly can be a mistake - those writers may not have gotten the callouses on their skin that they need to survive a writing career.

Lorena said...

"If you can't recover from rejection, you won't be able to handle the next opportunities or possibilities that come/are coming down the road, in the same way that athlete wouldn't be able to sprint if he doesn't recover."

LOVE this! Thank you.

Robena Grant said...

Thank you for these helpful words, Phillip. Like you, I'd gotten close one time. It hurt so much that I withdrew for a while to lick my wounds.
I'm about to stick my neck out again with a new and improved manuscript. I hope my reaction to rejection, and the subsequent recovery time, have also improved.

Henri said...

Egads! Receiving a literary rejection while driving down a high traffic highway. Sounds like a great opening for a Stephen King story.

Rebecca Kiel said...

Oh, rejection. It happens. Turned down for a date. University doesn't have room. That agent just wasn't passionate about your work. It happens to everyone at different times. Focusing on the recovery, on the "what now?" is a good practice. Nice post. Thanks!

Bethany said...

Thank you for the reminder, Nathan. It's true...rejection is part of the process. An RWA chapter mate of mine says that rejection letters are just one step closer to publication :-)

Bethany said...

Ooops I missed the part where it said it was a guest post--so thank you Phillip and thank you Nathan for hosting his post :-)

SBJones said...

I have not experienced this part of the journey yet. It is interesting to read about other people experienced both positive and negative.

Even though it is your rejection story, I feel like I can gain from this experience you decided to share.

salima said...

I love this! So apt and inspiring. Thank you, Philip.:)

LM Preston said...

I don't care how many times a door is slammed in my face, it gets my feathers up. I shake it off then head to the next door :-D

P A Wilson said...

Love the quote. I think it is important for writers who want to be published to remember that it's a business. If someone thinks they can't sell your product, it's not a good idea to dwell on convincing them to try.

Jarvis said...

Gotta have a short memory for sure. I know this from journalism.

The English Teacher said...

Hmmm... I'm not sure you can automatically call self-publishing a "mistake" anymore. I know that's not the main point of the post, but it seems rather outdated right now.

Isabella Amaris said...

Hi Philip,

I enjoyed reading your post, but something you said at the beginning got me thinking, ie writers making 'the mistake of self-publishing' if they can't accept rejection. I couldn't help thinking it's a mistake to equate having a thin skin with the implication that self-publishing is a 'mistake' writers are 'guilty' of.

Yes, prematurely self-publishing can happen out of frustration. But it's often also a conscious choice to take readers on as gatekeepers instead of agents/editors. If so, this decision, even if prompted by countless rejections, isn't necessarily a bad reaction to rejection, because it's an 'informed' decision in a sense.

Anyway, trust me to rant on about that one sentence out of your entire post, a post which I did enjoy btw:) To move on:), I think you nailed the feeling of recovering from rejection perfectly, as well as the necessity to take time to make your work the best it can be before putting it out there again, a process which is assisted ultimately by rejection.

And... I suppose, if there is a likelihood of self-publishing purely out of a knee-jerk reaction to rejection, instead of a clear-headed reaction, that would definitely be a mistake... one that writers need to be mindful of ... Cheers!

Wendy Jane said...

I agree with the English Teacher and Isabella. Self publishing is not necessarily the mistake. If one puts just as much effort into their work (editing, critiquing, rewrites) prior to self publishing, they should do just fine. But yes, rejection is part of the game. We should all be prepared to deal with it, learn from it, and grow. Pouting and giving up never should be an option.

Your posts are always interesting to follow. (even guest posts)

Lexi said...

Self-publishing a mistake? Tell that to Amanda Hocking.

And before you say she's the exception, I'm happy with my 30,000 sales and counting, when I could still be collecting agents' rejections. And there are a lot more like me :o)

tamarapaulin said...

Thanks for sharing! It really puts it in perspective that someone like you, who's been around the querying/submission block, still had a difficult time. Reading your post made little old Canadian me want to put my head in the sand and publish only $10 booklets via the photocopy store by my house. But then ... the melody of a song appeared in my head, followed by the lyrics. Chumbawumba. "I get knocked down, I get up again, you're never gonna keep me down!"

mark williams international said...

So many commentators here seem to be falling for the old line that rejection is a necessary part of the writing process.

But unless the agent tells you why they are rejecting you - which nine times out of ten they don't - all the rejection means is they can't see a way to make money out of you.

There are THREE indie published novels in the Kindle UK top ten right now. All three accumulated countless rejection slips from those that know best.

One of those books is ours. It's sold 75,000 copies in just a few months.

Time was, if an agent rejected you you tried again, because you had no choice.

Well wake up and smell the coffee.

There are new agents out there now.

They are called readers, and they can be found hanging around an e-store near you.

They are easy to query and multiple submissions are fine. They pay YOU a reading fee, and if they like you they tell their friends who also pay you a reading fee.

And when enough friends have paid and liked you their big brother the Real Agent comes along and queries YOU.

Stop partying like it's 2010!

Ginger*:) said...

Excellent article. This applies to illustrators as well *:)

lora96 said...

Excellent post! I needed to hear this...just got a rejection this a.m.

I'm thinking, if this doesn't work out, I'll work on the novel some more, then start a new project. My entire fate doesn't hang on this one story. It feels good to know that.

Shari said...

I LOVE this! Thanks for posting!

Mira said...

This is beautifully written, Phillip, thank you. I really appreciate that you shared a touchstone moment in your life - it was very profound.

I was recently rejected, not about writing, but something else in life, and I found this very helpful - thank you.

On a slightly different tack, not really having to do with the heart of this post, in terms of the publishing industry, however, I definitely agree with Mark Williams International.

J. T. Shea said...

Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me! With apologies to the British Carry-On comedies. Even though I haven't actually been rejected yet.

And hows about learning how to walk properly in the first place, Mr. Buddha?

Or, conversely, fall once, and then lay there on the ground tripping up everyone who passes and telling them how much better off they'd be on the ground.

Thanks, Philip and Nathan!

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Wise words, Philip, and they apply to many phases of the writing and publishing process. Even the agented writer or the published writer (whether traditionally or self-published) has stumbling blocks. As we do in all areas of life, really. It's not whether we face obstacles but how we face them that counts.

Colleen Fong said...

Wonderful encouragement on a painful subject. For me it's easier to take the disappointment than it is to take the inevitable self-doubt that comes with rejection.

Anonymous said...

I remember I was driving too. I'd pulled off the road to hear from my agent about my book. It had gone through to acquisitions, so we were expecting an offer, and the editor had prepared him to receive an offer that morning, so there was lots of nervous waiting with the mobile.

The song playing on the radio when the phone rang was, 'Feels like today,' - as in today, your life changes. I thought the stars had lined up. But it wasn't to be. The call was a rejection - the book hadn't made it through acquisitions. I was devastated, but I remember puling back on to the road, and thinking about the feedback, and being determined that I would show them I could make it.

I'm still working on the next novel - the one to show them how good I could be - but the same editor has already requested the full, so there's hope yet.

Vic K

Kathryn Magendie said...

Sometimes something not working out is the best thing that could have happened and only hindsight give you that insight!

Love the running analogy - but that's probably because I've taken up running so I'm all fired up about it - even have my "will run for chocolate" tee now :-D

Jenni Wiltz said...

Thanks for the inspiration, Philip!

I had a similar situation, where after reading 100 pages of my manuscript, the agent said she'd already mentioned it to an editor at St. Martin's over lunch. I got super excited, thinking my time had come. Well, the agent passed when she read the rest of the book...and she was right. The book wasn't ready. I wasn't ready. But like you, I had to pick myself back up and write something else, knowing I'd gotten close. I was on the right track.

Very inspiring post!

Heidi said...

Thanks for putting your experience out there, Phillip. We are usually happy to talk about our successes, but hesitant to mention our moments of defeat.

I have to admit, fear of rejection is one of the things that holds me back, but your story puts a new light on it. Rejection may not be the end, merely a stepping stone.

Jenny said...

True true. Even though I've never thought of is at such, linking physical and mental recovery, I don't think I'll ever be able to look at recovering from rejection without this post sitting in the back of my mind.

Regan Leigh said...

Um. My FB status for today?

"This whole query business may just drive me crazy and suck all my hope out through my pathetic little writer finger tips. Is that dramatic enough? *holds spork to eyeball* How about now? ;)"

Jo-Ann said...

Recovery time for rejections? What a great concept! How fit is your metaphoric heart? After all, you love that damned ms!

A rejection places a choice in your path: quit or make it better.

Well, it pumps me up to make it better. Self-pity is a smothering, defeatist view. I review the rejected piece and make it stronger, or write a new piece that's even better. Rejection fires me to up my word target for the day (sadly, that effect wears off after a few days) and sharpen the query letter.

Rejection makes me feel like I'm a performer who's received a shocking review - I pick myself up and make tomorrow's damned show better.

Lisa said...

I liken it to the recovery after alcohol use. You get a little better at it, every time, and if you can't spring back the day after, you really shouldn't be drinking.

Then again, muscle actually builds up, after strenuous activity. Brain cells after alcohol use - haven't noticed any increase, yet.

Max Atkinson said...

I wrote a book that was rejected by 20 publishers and 2 agents. But, once it was published, it led to a TV program that completely changed my life (for the better). For full story, see 'How to get a book published' at http://bit.ly/aeEtev which, I hope, will give any would-be authors a bit of hope. Since then,it was easy enough to get an agent, who has helped me to publish two more books.

Karen S. Elliott said...

I completely agree with the rejection and recovery part. But I'm not sure I agree with the self-pub as a mistake idea. Why do you consider that a mistake?

chandra said...

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Letters

kathleenjeanemclaughlin said...

My bane was critiques. After I get over the emotionality of the critique--my baby being bashed--I look at it objectively. I understand the truth of the wise words spoken, address the issue and recover quickly having learned more than mere words can say. Now the process is easier to handle and I thank the person who pointed out the issue to me with a full heart. Recovery is part of the process and it occurs more quickly now.

Kevin Lynn helmick said...

Rejection doesn't bother me in the slightest. Well, maybe a little, but it's part of the process. You can't learn with out it and you can't please everone. I think agents and editors for the most part are looking for something specific and easy to sell. They have a lot to choose from so they'll put their time and enegy in the guy or gal with the most cred, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, or next Twighlight, or Harry Potter, or what ever. There's more to their the decison than the writing, and I believe that- no matter what anybody tells you.(I've read to many horrible books not too) I also beleive you can make up for what you lack in those area's with persistance and excellence. Persistance will get you attention, but the work had better be good, real good, and marketable, or forget it. If your work doesn't follow the mainstream formula or what ever's hot at the time, I see no mistake or anything to feel guilty about with publishing it yourself. (but educate yourself here, don't a fool about it)
Getting asked for more material feels great, but I know it still hasn't gotten anywhere, so I try to put in the back of mind and not get my hopes up.
When a detailed encourging rejection comes, I send a thank you and I read it over and over and try to find the obvious mistakes I made with the manuscript and fix them and re submitt to that rejection first out of profesional courtesy, and tell them I'm doing so. Probably the ship has sailed and it wont even get considered, but thats one more time your name passed someones eyes. It might get recoginized on your next project. If somebody asked for a complete manuscript, then somebody liked it. They just couldn't get everybody to like it,and I don't take that as a rejection, I'd rather call it a near hit.
As far the "sorry not for us," don't give it a second thought.

Roslyn Rice said...

Why does Philip ink that self publishing is a mistake?

Jennifer K. Oliver said...

Fantastic post. This rings so true. I try to see rejections as proof I'm still in the game. Turning a negative into a positive helps me push on to the next story submission. :)

Thank you Philip, and Nathan for hosting!

Kevin Lynn Helmick said...

Roslyn
Maybe he had a bad experiance. I could only find one book by a Philip H on Amazon, (not even sure it's the same guy,) published by Infinty,and I know they've bugged me with big talk and promises for a lot of money. But I don't know if they deliver or not. I didn't go that way.
But I can't find any other links to any other books, in his blog or website.
How about a link Philip? right to the books? I can't find them. Maybe I'm missing it.

Sandra Patterson said...

Good post. Artists need the crucible of rejection to raise their game. It spurs us on to greater things.

Kath said...

Seriously? You got a phone call rejection? Not just a form? Clearly you were already doing well.
And of course you did even better by driving off and keeping on.

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